Posted Aug 01, 2007 12:33 pm CDT
New York University law student Jill Filipovic, a regular Internet blogger, knows that employers routinely search the Web for information about job candidates.
“I assume that employers will see it,” says Filipovic, an author of Feministe, a blog that focuses on women’s rights and reproductive rights. “I hold the views I hold, and a lot of employers are not going to take that on. … I accept that.”
Harder to accept were dispar- aging remarks about Filipovic—all false—that made the rounds in cyberspace. But false or not, such remarks can become concerns for job seekers in the brave new Internet world. Postings like those and others that contain personal information can derail legal careers faster than a mouse click.
“You’re being watched,” says Victor C. Massaglia, career adviser at the University of Minnesota Law School. Highly personal information can be found not only via the MySpace, Facebook and Friendster social networking sites but also on YouTube and even through interactive video games such as Second Life, where the virtual and real worlds collide.
Employers easily find personal information about job candidates simply by entering the applicant’s name on the Google home page. And social networking sites include photos, tales of vacations, information about religious and political affiliations, notes on sexual preferences and relationship status, and more.
Candidates should regularly enter their names into Google and other search engines seeking digital dirt on themselves. “The diary used to be behind the lock and key, and now it is on the Internet for everyone to read,” Massaglia says.
Recruiters and law school career offices are educating candidates on how to manage their online personas and asking them to remove inappropriate and even borderline information from the Web.
Career advisers at the University of Pennsylvania law school asked one student to remove a Web site. “It was really harmless,” says Crystal D. Deazle, acting director for career planning and placement. But “it came across really juvenile and flippant. It talked about classes and how boring they were. We asked her to take it down. Part of it is understanding what is professional and what is not,” says Deazle.
Besides prospective employers, state bars may discover inappropriate information, Deazle says. “They certainly take this seriously. If you wouldn’t want your parents to see it, take it down.”
“It can come back to haunt you. You work very hard in school to earn your reputation. You don’t want to do anything that you don’t want an employer to see” on the Web, says Marciann Dunnagan, executive director in Boston of Special Counsel, a recruiter with offices nationwide.
Even information posted by others can cost candidates. Another Penn student, who spent a summer clerking at a law firm, received an offer only to find that it was rescinded. His soon-to-be employer took the offer back because the candidate had affiliated himself with a Web site that disparaged female law students, even though the student himself had not posted any offensive remarks. A year and a half later, the student, now a Penn grad, is still looking for work, Deazle says.
Even if employers find information, they are often uncertain what to do about it. When do they revoke an offer?
Says Massaglia: “Is it 75 percent of [a candidate’s] skin showing or a beer or bong” shown with the candidate?
ReputationDefender is one service that helps applicants monitor postings on the Web. Some candidates are hiring such services. But not all Internet information turns out to be bad for job applicants. Some people are hired on the strength of blogs or Web sites about legal issues, Massaglia says. “It is creating their brand and making it professional.”
Indeed, Filipovic landed a summer job clerking for a judge. Others may not be so lucky. “It is uncharted territory,” Massaglia says. “It is the wild, wild West as far as policy.”